Set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1900, Lyle Brandt’s latest Lawman novel serves up action as well as serial killers. Today’s readers are familiar with the idea of serial killers as a product of metropolitan areas and dense populations, but Brandt twists the idea a little to make it more meaningful for the Western fans.
Massacre Trail is the fourth book in the Jack Slade series, and Slade still serves as a U.S. Marshal under Judge Dennison, also known as the hanging judge. From the beginning, Slade has been new but natural to the work, and he feels torn between serving justice, which is needed in this raw, developing country that is racing toward statehood, and making a life for himself with the woman he loves.
Brandt’s writing is easy to read and the pages turn readily enough as he stirs the pot and brings the action to a boil. After the wholesale slaughter of four families (even the children are killed and dismembered in macabre fashion), fear and a need for retribution run high in Paradise, the town that seems to be in the eye of the violent storm.
The townsfolk want to blame warriors from the local Cherokee Indian reservation rather than one of their own. This attitude really typifies the modern world’s misconception of the killer living next door. One of the local businessmen wants to take advantage of the situation so he can accelerate unrest toward the Indians and get the United States cavalry called in, hoping for a land grab if all goes well.
Slade has his hands full trying to figure out who’s really doing the killings without juggling the townspeople and the U.S. Army. The mix of all the action is interesting, as well as Brandt’s observations of the social stratification of everything going on.
The book seems to take a little while to get started with all the set up, but the pages turn easily enough. Some of the side avenues Slade explores comes back to pay off in unexpected ways. The prologue is a chilling presentation, though.
Once Brandt has everything up and running, the action plays out quickly. Things go on in town as well, and I was really disappointed to see that Slade didn't have a more direct hand in some of that action. But there was simply too much going on for him to be everywhere.
All in all, a very satisfactory adventure set in the old West. Jack Slade is one of those characters readers can relate to easily and come back to again and again.